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February 12, 2007

Kings for a Day

The Sport Fishing staff shows you where to enjoy the royal treatment while catching chinook and more in British Columbia

Contrary to what our readers may imagine, fishing-magazine editors don't live the life of Riley in an endless jaunt from one exotic angling destination to another. We often put in long hours at the office answering e-mails, chasing sources for interviews or tapping away on the laptop to meet deadlines. Every once in a while though, we draw a cool assignment that makes all the desk time seem a fair bargain.

Each June the Sport Fishing staff assembles for an annual powwow to discuss plans for the approaching year. Our editor in chief, Doug Olander, seized the chance to turn a tiring conference-room marathon into a combination planning session/team-building time/fishing trip. Thanks to contacts at the British Columbia Tourism Board, Olander arranged for us to enjoy several days at Sund's Lodge on Malcolm Island (off the northern tip of Vancouver Island). We fished by day and spent evenings mapping out the magazine's content for 2007. I can't reveal all our editorial plans here, but I can tell you about the Sund's Lodge experience.

VIP Reception
Visitors can reach Sund's Lodge by floatplane or arrange for pickup by boat at the public marina in Port McNeil on Vancouver Island. The lodge staff, led by Scott Sund, gathers on the floating dock to welcome each group of arriving guests with a smile and a song. The musical greeting kicks off a fun, summer-camp atmosphere that lasts the entire stay.

After verifying that all of our group's luggage had been delivered to the correct cabins, we assembled on the veranda for a brief orientation while several bald eagles screamed a musical greeting of their own. Over drinks and hors d'oeuvres, we learned where to pick up slicker bib pants, boots and float coats, then provided the dockmaster with the info he needed to issue our fishing licenses.

During lunch, Sund suggested we devote the afternoon session to bottomfishing. The fleet of seven boats (each manned by an experienced guide and equipped with an enclosed cabin, head and full electronics) stood ready to take anglers to various spots along the Inside Passage between Malcolm and Vancouver islands. Capt. Roland Presseau welcomed Olander and me aboard, and after a 20-minute ride, he announced we had reached one of his favorite halibut flats.

Presseau handed me a 30-pound levelwind outfit and pinned a herring on the spreader rig. I free-spooled the bait toward bottom and glanced back at the depth finder, which read less than 100 feet. The slightly wrinkled sea floor showed no significant peaks or crevices as we drifted in search of a herd of grazing halibut.

Never one to sit still while waiting for fish to appear, Olander pulled out his 12-pound spinning outfit and tied a metal jig on a mono leader to the braided line. Presseau questioned the choice of tackle. "Are you sure you want to jig with a trout rod? The halibut here average around   25 pounds, but we get the occasional 100-pounder as well."

The bite remained slow on that sunny afternoon. My baits went untouched; however, Olander impressed Presseau by hooking and landing a chicken halibut on his "trout rod." Fishing within sight of us, Sport Fishing editor Chris Woodward caught a 27-pound flatfish on herring.

When Presseau heard that I had never caught a lingcod, he began our run back to the lodge early enough to allow time for a jigging stop at Haddington Island. "The quarry on this island provided the stones used to construct the Parliament buildings in Victoria [on Vancouver Island]," he explained as he set up a drift just yards from a steep cliff. "Rocks that were blasted off the side of the island form a rubble shelf here. It's an excellent spot for lingcod."

Sure enough, I felt the welcome thump as a fish nailed the lead-head/curly tail combo on our second drift. After boating my first lingcod, a 15-pounder, Presseau showed me where to record the catch on my fishing license.

Just prior to enjoying that evening's gourmet dinner, prepared by chef Simon Vine, we learned of another Sund's Lodge tradition. Woodward was directed to sit in a high-backed chair made of rough-hewn pine logs, then received special recognition and a hearty round of applause for catching the day's largest fish. After the meal, the pleasing mix of VIP treatment and summer-camp fun continued with a bonfire on the beach.

Early Chinook
A pre-dawn breakfast got us on the water to begin trolling for salmon before sunlight could chase away the light blanket of fog. Presseau explained that an early start helps anglers take advantage of the Chinooks' tendency to bite best in the morning. Our guide put lines in just five minutes after leaving the dock. "We don't have to run far to find fish because the area near the lodge remains dependable all season long," he said. "We rarely run more than 30 minutes, and we do that only when we know certain spots are producing Chinook or coho at a given time."

As you would expect to see in salmon country, the trolling outfits sported flashers. Baits included herring and anchovies rigged with Rhys Davis Anchovy Specials. Also known locally as "anchovy heads," these plastic devices fit over the bait's head to impart a slow, rolling spin that convinces salmon to attack. "Anchovies don't occur here naturally, but they make good bait because they match the size of our smaller herring," Presseau said. "We also troll with plastic hoochies, spoons and J plugs."

Using two downriggers, Presseau set three lines at different depths in an effort to determine where the salmon were holding that morning. He explained that on some days the fish range throughout the water column, while on others they stack up at a specific depth. When the fish show a preference, Presseau adjusts the lines to troll two at the most productive depth.

On this morning, the fish remained scattered. My first fish of the day - and my first-ever Chinook - struck at 7:30 and weighed in at 25 pounds. That fish immediately propelled me to the top of the list of candidates to get "the chair" at dinner that evening, but my colleague Dean Travis Clarke eventually dethroned me with a 27-pound Chinook.

As Presseau hefted my fish, he said it represented a typical king salmon for the area: "Chinook here average from 20 to 30 pounds. Each year we catch several in the 40-pound range and an occasional 50-pounder, but such fish are exceptional for these waters."

When Sund's Lodge promises a shore lunch, I strongly urge resisting the temptation to munch the on-board snacks all morning! Several boatloads of staff, equipment and supplies motored past us and around a point at 10:30. By lunchtime they had prepared a full-scale picnic on a pebbly beach. The menu included steamed Dungeness crab, corn on the cob, a variety of salads and sandwiches, wine and soft drinks - and all chased with fresh-baked cookies.

Jigging the Depths
The Sport Fishing crew hit rock bottom after that midday feast. More specifically, captains Geof Duddridge and Sam Carlburg took us on a bottomfishing mission to explore several pinnacles rising from depths of 300-plus feet.

Anglers who prefer jigging should bring their own lures because the lodge boats carry mostly bait-fishing tackle. Olander, who had wheedled extra-baggage allowance from Kenmore Air, opened a heavy tackle box and distributed metal jigs to his companions. Our first two passes produced no fish; then Duddridge marked an underwater ridge that yielded hookups on about every other drift.

First Clarke cranked up a hefty lingcod. Olander soon followed suit with a toothy lingcod of his own. Woodward and publisher Glenn Hughes, fishing on different boats, scored a doubleheader on 20-pound snapper (the local name for yelloweye rockfish). I kept myself busy by adding a few black rockfish to round out the mix.

In between salmon strikes the next morning, Presseau told us there'd be no shore lunch. Yet he still advised against a heavy midmorning snack. "The Burger Boat will make the rounds today!"

"Burger Boat?" I asked.

"Just wait and see," he said with a grin.

When the lunch hour neared, all the boats took up trolling patterns within a half-mile of the lodge as the smell of grilling meat wafted in the breeze like an airborne chum line. Skippered by Sund and expertly crewed by chef Simon, the Burger Boat features a barbecue grill and serves piping-hot burgers and hot dogs with all the fixings to hungry fishermen. Each boat pulls in its trolling gear to raft up momentarily with the Burger Boat, and lunch is served.

"We came up with the Burger Boat as a way to give our guests more time on the water during their last full day at the lodge," Sund says. "They can keep fishing rather than stopping for a shore lunch, yet still enjoy a hot meal."

Mooching Lesson
Like many anglers in the Pacific Northwest, our guides knew quite a bit about mooching tackle. In this case, "mooching" doesn't refer to the brother-in-law's annoying habit of borrowing your gear. Easterners (such as yours truly) often have difficulty using the long, flexible rods and knuckle-buster reels that come as standard equipment on salmon boats. I found that with a bit of coaching, anybody can learn proper technique and enjoy the challenge of fighting fish on this tackle.

The mooching outfits on the boats at Sund's consist of 10 1ΒΌ2-foot rods and Shimano single-action reels loaded with 250 yards of 30-pound monofilament. Attached directly to the spool, the reel handles spin as line pays out - hence the term knuckle-buster. Presseau says a common mistake occurs when anglers attempt to stop a running fish. "Don't try to grab the handle while it's spinning!" he warns. "You can hurt your fingers. And if you do manage to grip the handle, the sudden stop can break the line."

When a fish makes a strong run, hold the rod tip high and don't touch the reel handle. Instead, palm the spool lightly to apply a little extra drag, and keep the reel from whirling fast enough to generate a backlash. Work the fish after each run, and crank the reel to gather line when possible. "I like mooching reels better than spinners or levelwinds because you know that every turn of the handle means you're gaining line," says Presseau. "You can't just spin your wheels by winding against the drag."

Never drop that tip while reeling because a high angle helps the long, flexible rod protect the line. A low rod angle can result in straight-lining a fish and breaking it off. Held high, the mooching rod flexes as you crank the reel on a tight line and has ample headroom to straighten and lift out slack when a fish changes direction.

Try to avoid the habitual pump-and-wind technique as you fight a salmon; keep the rod at about 45 degrees, and wind continuously to maintain constant pressure. "Single-action reels can't pick up line as quickly as many anglers are used to, so dropping the rod can give a fish enough slack to turn its head. Steady pressure keeps it coming nose-first toward the boat," says Presseau.

When a fish accelerates and makes a run right at you, lift the rod top even higher to help take up slack as you wind furiously. The high angle also turns the rod into a more effective shock absorber if the fish changes direction and begins peeling off line again. Don't panic if the fish bolts toward the boat quickly enough to put slack in the line. "Slack isn't good, of course, but it's not the end of the world," Presseau says. "When a salmon runs toward you at that speed, the flasher and belly of line dragging through the water usually generate enough tension to keep the hook from falling out. Just crank until you come tight again."

Even as you wind like a madman to take up line, stay ready to release the reel handle should the fish surge away on another strong run. Presseau warns against committing the common rookie mistake of stubbornly hanging onto the handle too long after a fish kicks on the turbochargers. "Holding on for those few extra seconds loads the reel with tension from the tightening, stretching line," he says. "Then when you do let go, the spool releases suddenly and spins too quickly. That's asking for a backlash."

All this theory means nothing if you don't put it into practice. Plan a trip to Sund's, where Presseau and his fellow guides can provide plenty of on-the-water coaching.

 


About Sund's Lodge


Besides a fleet of seven fishing boats and immediate access to the Inside Passage's calm waters, Sund's Lodge features a dry sauna, hot tubs, rec room with TV and billiards, golf driving range, horseshoe pits, nature trails, bicycles and sea kayaks. Ten double rooms with private baths assure the comfort of 20 guests at a time.

All-inclusive rates cover fishing license, tackle and supplies; liquor, wine and meals (you'll love the five-course dinners); rain pants, float coats and rubber boots; and packaging of vacuum-bagged, frozen fish in a waxed box for the trip home.

The lodge thrives on a well-deserved reputation for impeccable customer service offered by an always smiling, genuinely courteous staff. "We provide a thorough training program prior to each season, but our secret to success is starting with quality people," says Scott Sund. "We hire people based on their character and personality, knowing that their skills will follow closely."

For more information and reservations, contact Sund's Lodge: 800-991-SUND; www.sundslodge.com; sales@sundslodge.com.